Kettering inclusive sailing pioneer honoured

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A Kettering man who has been at forefront of promoting inclusive sailing for more than 20 years has been honoured.

Ron Sawford is one of the most familiar faces within the disabled sailing community, having co-founded and been the driving force behind the popular Hansa class.

Through developing boats with son, Steve, at his Kettering-based ‘Sailing For All’ boat-building business, Ron has created countless opportunities for disabled people to get afloat, develop sailing skills, go racing, and most importantly, meet regularly both in the UK and overseas.

He has now been honoured with a national RYA Sailability Exceptional Contribution Award.

The awards are presented each year to individuals who have shown exceptional commitment and dedication to boating and getting people on the water over a considerable period.

Ron was presented with his award at the 2019 RYA Sailability National Conference and Awards dinner at Wyboston Lakes, Bedfordshire.

When Ron first got involved in 1997, the opportunities for disabled people to take up sailing were limited.

But he is delighted to have been part of the Sailability movement that has now helped more than 58,000 people to experience sailing, with some 17,000 becoming regular participants at 204 recognised disabled sailing sites around the UK.

Ron said: “To win this award is an incredible honour.

“Sailing takes its place in challenging unhealthy isolation, inactivity and demotivation.

“If managed correctly, it draws people into healthy, social activity promoting closer communities and better physical and mental health.

“Sailing is also a sport that, given the right equipment, training and support, enables disabled sailors and sailors without disability to compete on truly equal terms.

“I was driven by my Christian love for all people, my conviction that our communities should be fair and just and the severe lack of opportunities for many people to experience sailing as my son and I know it.

“I am much encouraged by the progress we are making to address these issues in the UK and the recent acceptance that many disabilities are also hidden.

“Disability awareness has been driven by so many organisations and individuals.

“This is permeating our national identity and driving inclusion into all our activities.

“We are not where we were, but not yet where we need to be.

“In sailing we have a long way to go before true inclusion is achieved, but I am encouraged each time I encounter a volunteer or staff member that is ‘going the extra mile’ and displaying the ‘can do’ attitude to make a difference.”

Ron pioneered the the first Hansa class National Championships before embedding a hugely popular and competitive Traveller Series into the sailing calendar.

In 2010, he was class secretary when the UK hosted the Hansa World Championships at Rutland Water.

With 100 competitors from 10 countries, this was a big undertaking. The Hansa Class in the UK would not be where it is today without him.

RYA Sailability manager Joff McGill said: “Ron is at the heart of a strong community of like-minded, supportive people.

“He has been a driving force, ensuring altruistic values endure, even as the demand increases.

“His calm, rational and likeable persona helps when some firm diplomacy is needed.

“And he never stops. The Hansa class is thriving and he continues to put the hours in, working quietly in the background.

“The very many people from across the Sailability community who know Ron will know he would not want his efforts to be recognised, but he is thoroughly deserving of this award.”

To discover how RYA Sailability is #morethansailing visit www.rya.org.uk/sailability.